Venezuela backtracks on expulsion of US diplomats

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro permits US diplomats to remain in the country for 30 days, three days after ordering them out.

Elad Benari ,

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government on Saturday backtracked on an order that gave US Embassy personnel 72 hours to leave Venezuela, The Associated Press.

Maduro on Wednesday announced he was breaking his country’s diplomatic relations with the United States, after President Donald Trump recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president and called on Maduro to step down.

The Trump administration refused to obey his order, arguing that Maduro was no longer Venezuela's legitimate president. That set the stage for a potentially violent showdown at the hilltop Embassy compound on Saturday night, when the deadline was to expire.

However, on Saturday night the Foreign Ministry in Caracas issued a statement saying the Maduro government had opened a 30-day window to negotiate with the Trump administration the establishment of a "US interests office" in Venezuela, and a similar office for Venezuela in the United States.

The State Department did not immediately confirm the Venezuelan government's account, reiterating only that its priority remains the safety of its personnel and that it has no plans to close the embassy, according to AP.

Earlier in the day, Venezuela's Foreign Affairs Minister faced off against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a special UN Security Council meeting on Venezuela's situation.

During the debate -- which was convened by the US -- Pompeo urged all nations to end Venezuela's "nightmare" and support opposition Guaido. while Russia accused the Trump administration of attempting "to engineer a coup d'etat" against Maduro.

Pompeo told the Security Council that it's beyond time to back the Venezuelan people as they try to free themselves from what he called Maduro's "illegitimate mafia state" and support Guaido.

Russia's UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said Venezuela doesn't threaten international peace and security and accused "extremist opponents" of Maduro's legitimate government of choosing "maximum confrontation," including the artificial creation of a parallel government. He urged Pompeo to say whether the US will use military force.

Pompeo later told reporters who asked for a response, "I am not going to speculate or hypothesize on what the US will do next."

Venezuela has been rocked by protests and civil unrest in recent years as the government's socialist policies have caused the country to sink into economic ruin. Inflation has run rampant and there is a shortage of basic commodities such as food.

In 2017, the US imposed sanctions on Maduro, freezing all his assets in the US, and prohibiting Americans from dealing with him.

The outspoken Maduro has insulted his political opponents as "heirs to Hitler" in the past, and has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism.

In 2014, he twice expelled American diplomats from Venezuela, claiming they were encouraging protests against him by opposition groups.